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'Pipe One is Done': Benton Harbor begins the process of replacing thousands of lead water lines

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has committed to having all of the lead water lines in tthe city removed and replaced within the next 18 months
Benton Harbor Water Pipe Reeplacement
Posted at 6:00 PM, Nov 08, 2021

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — The process of replacing thousands of lead water lines in the city of Benton Harbor has begun, as the first lead line was removed and replaced with a copper line Monday afternoon.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer committed in October to having all of the lead lines in the city within the next 18 months, after a swell of efforts from activists on the ground over the past several years.

A group of community activists, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted an emergency petition with the EPA in September, asking the federal agency to push state and local officials in Michigan to act on the situation in Benton Harbor.

The first lead line replaced Monday was removed from beneath Ogden Ave, near Cross St.

Elin Betanzo, an engineer with Safe Wateer Engineering, LLC, and one of the people who helped petition the EPA, described the actual process of replacing a line to FOX 17 Monday, “What they did is, fed a cable through the old lead service line, they hooked it up to the shovel here, and they pulled the new copper line from the hole on that side of the street, pulled it under the road, under the pavement, to get the copper line around, so they can connect it to the water main.”

After the copper line was attached to the water main, run under a roadway, and towards home on Ogden Ave, they were able to hook it up to the home, theoretically giving them access to clean water.

Nobody was home inside the house while crews were working on the water line out front.

Originally, replacement efforts were not expected to begin until Thursday, November 11, because of a nationwide copper shortage.

Dan Meeks Construction, a Benton Harbor-based business, is the first company to receive a contract with the city to begin this work. They are contracted to complete 100 removal/replacements in the city by May.

“Most of my guys live here in Benton Harbor," Meeks told FOX 17 Monday.

"We’re a local company, so it feels good to be working at home and doing something that will better our community.”

The city will be awarding several other contracts for the work, so projects can be completed across the city simultaneously.

FOX 17 did try to get information from the city of Benton Harbor Monday regarding when and where the work would begin. Calls to the city manager's office have gone unanswered, and a number listed on the city's website for the Mayor seemed to be out of service Monday afternoon.

Efforts to replace the thousands of remaining lead water lines in Benton Harbor are expected to resume Thursday and continue for the next 18 months.